5 best practices for designing a contact center agent training program
Illustration by Nick Barrett

David Merrill, renowned educator and coauthor of Reclaiming Instructional Design, defines instructional design as a “technology that incorporates known and verified learning strategies into instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective and appealing.”

We all want our employees to receive the most effective training, and to apply their new capabilities to their role in the most effective way. The instructional design community is a dynamic resource for improving how organizations like yours train and develop people. We’ve identified five ways to use instructional design in your training program for minimum cost and maximum effectiveness.

1. Adopt an Instructional Design Model

Instructional design models provide solid foundations upon which to build your company’s training. Models bring consistency and direction to a training program. There are many instructional design models supported by research for a wide variety of applications and learners. We chose a popular model known for its flexibility—the ADDIE model or framework.

ADDIE stands for analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. The following are a few considerations for each phase signified.

Analysis

  • Who is the audience and what are their characteristics?
  • What is the desired behavioral outcome?
  • What types of learning constraints exist?

Design

  • Documentation of the project’s instructional, visual and technical design.
  • Storyboard creation for your training.
  • Design the user experience.

Development

  • Create and assemble content that was created in the design phase.
  • Obtain feedback from stakeholders to review and revise the training.

Implementation

  • Preparation of the learner’s tools and systems.
  • Facilitators deliver the curriculum.

Evaluation

  • Receive feedback from the learners on the curriculum.
  • Evaluate the learner’s knowledge, skills and abilities.

Originally a step-by-step hierarchy, in practice, ADDIE has become more interactive and less rigid. The phases serve as milestones and are open to interpretation and improvement. Some organizations have added a “P” for a planning phase, or an “M” for a maintenance phase. What’s most important is to execute each milestone in a systemic and orderly way.

2. Facilitator and Participant Guides

Providing a consistent experience—especially when your company has multiple trainers delivering content—is critical to a successful program. Two types of guides are invaluable for keeping the product consistent and everyone on message. A facilitator guide is strictly for the facilitator. It includes the how, what and when aspects of the training program. A participant guide is a resource for the learner to take notes in and for participation in various activities and exercises.

The following are a few tips for getting the most out of your facilitator and participant guides.

Facilitator guides should:

  • Provide instruction to the facilitator on how an activity should be trained.
  • Include the amount of time a module is expected to take to train.
  • Identify the required materials to train the curriculum.
  • Include the concepts that are required to be discussed on each topic.

Participant guides should:

  • Include the key points that a learner needs to understand from a topic.
  • Explain the learning objectives for each section.
  • Leave space for notes.
  • Create activities the learner can complete.

It’s not hard to find good examples of facilitator and participant guides online. When creating your guides, start with the basics and take time to review and update as needed.

3. Apply Consistent Formatting

All too often when I am consulting with companies, I see problems caused by a lack of standardization in the curriculum. Learners find it easier to learn when the materials are organized and laid out in a consistent and logical way. When they become familiar with the format, they’re more likely to focus on the content and understand what is expected from them. This is just as important for refresher training or cross-training.

I recommend creating a standardization procedure or style guide. This document outlines the templates, text styles, images, etc., and clearly shows how each should be used in the training materials. A style guide takes the formatting questions out of curriculum design and presents materials in a coherent and consistent way. Your training team will find the style guide very helpful when designing curricula.

There are some excellent formatting tools available, including:

  • FS Pro (Microsoft Word plugin)
  • XMind (Concept Charting)
  • Articulate Storyline (eLearning)
  • Adobe Captivate (eLearning)

In my experience, this is an area in which most organizations can benefit from assistance. A writing and layout professional can produce a quality product for you much faster than a team of non-professionals. Consider making the investment.

4. Bob Pike’s CPR

Bob Pike, a well-known training consultant for Fortune 100 companies and respected authority in the training community, developed a strategy that he calls “CPR.” CPR, in this case, stands for: Content, Participation, Revisit.

CPR is a simple tool that can be easily applied with tremendous results. The following is an outline of how to apply CPR to your current training. Note that Pike recommends that sessions last no longer than 90 minutes without a formal break.

Content

  • This is the section where the facilitator will teach/lecture.
  • According to Pike, the facilitator should not teach/lecture for more than 20 minutes.

Participation

  • The audience should be involved every 8 minutes.
  • This includes activities, writing exercises, discussion, etc.

Revisit

  • The audience should revisit what they have learned in their own words.
  • This can be accomplished with simple review exercises or teach-backs.

The concept of CPR is to provide tools that get to the primary goal of involving your audience and keeping their attention in meaningful ways. This type of learning is most effective and impactful.

5. Use PowerPoint Sparingly

I want to start with the premise that there is a distinction between training and presenting. Training involves the presentation of content and participation in the form of practice, feedback and assessment of the behavior that was to be learned. Presenting does not require activate audience participation, apart from questions at the end. This article is about creating more effective training, not more effective presentations. Best-practice design methods are different for training and presenting.

Let me be clear—this is not an argument against PowerPoints. In fact, they can be a wonderful tool to supplement curriculum. However, it’s very easy to go into “presenter mode” when using PowerPoint, which can discourage audience participation.

The advice I give companies on this topic is simple: Does the PowerPoint bring value to the topic you are trying to convey? Is it necessary, and does it supplement the curriculum? If so, then PowerPoint away!

Key Takeaways

  1. Adopt an instructional design model. The ADDIE model is a common and effective one to use.
  2. Facilitator and participant guides help to save time and make the most of your training.
  3. Consistent formatting is key. If your organization doesn’t have a style guide in place, create one!
  4. Bob Pike’s CPR is an instructional design tool that maximizes participation and engagement during training.
  5. It’s OK to use PowerPoint, but make sure that any slideshows add value and supplement the curriculum.
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